Gargoyle-Tile Workshop Visit Part 1: Factory Tour
desktop background image of an ornamental temple-roof tile, at the Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) in Otsu Japan -- Ornamental Temple Roof Tile in need of a roof at the Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房), Otsu Japan -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 1100 — map & image datanearby photos
Ornamental Temple Roof Tile
in need of a roof
at the Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房), Otsu Japan
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Japanese temples generally have tiled roofs, with ornamental tiles of various sizes and meanings sprinkled liberally throughout. For example, the demon-face tile seen the other day on this post:

Peak of a Temple Roof -- Shoju Raijoji Temple (聖衆来迎寺) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/800 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Peak of a Temple Roof

In Japanese these ornamental tiles are called onigawara (鬼 瓦) — literally demon tile — though the word is used for any complex decorative tile, with or without a demon. The English word gargoyle is often used for these; it's not really the right word, but it's evocative of the same concept, and I can't think of anything better.

Earlier in the summer I had a fantastic opportunity (more on that later) to get a private tour of the Minobe family workshop, which has been entrusted to make these tiles for generations. Subject over the years to weather, earthquakes, war, and vandalism, the tiles end up lasting only a few hundred years, so much of their current work is recreating and replacing the ornamental tiles that earlier generations of the family had created for famous Kyoto temples.

Mr. Minobe Shows the Kiln his father is the current head of a household that's been in business for generations -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 4000 — map & image datanearby photos
Mr. Minobe Shows the Kiln
his father is the current head of a household that's been in business for generations
Storage Area Above the Kiln it was hot -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Storage Area Above the Kiln
it was hot

The huge decorative tiles seen above are still called onigawara (demon tiles), even though they don't have demons or ogres or devils, or anything else like that. Here's the detail from the one on the right, of what looks to me like a phoenix...

desktop background image of an ornamental temple-roof tile, at the Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) in Otsu Japan -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/320 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
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More Storage -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
More Storage
Garden Gnomes ( sort of ) -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 560 — map & image datanearby photos
Garden Gnomes
( sort of )
Ebisu the Japanese god of fishermen, luck, the working man, and children's health -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 60mm — 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Ebisu
the Japanese god of fishermen, luck, the working man, and children's health

Side note; Ebisu is the namesake for one of Japan's oldest beers, archaically transliterated on the label as Yebisu but pronounced the same. To facilitate distribution of this beer, the company made a train station near the brewery in 1901 and named it after the beer. The Ebisu neighborhood of Tokyo then grew up around it. So the station and the neighborhood are named after a beer, but the beer is named after an ancient deity.

desktop background image of an ornamental temple-roof tile, at the Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) in Otsu Japan -- Kirin another part of mythology that lends its name to a Japanese beer -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Kirin
another part of mythology that lends its name to a Japanese beer
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In front of the kirin is a title with a simple flower. There were also things like birds and fish, and all had meanings. I might be remembering this incorrectly, but having a bird on your roof (or in your garden) would mean people would flock there in larger numbers, and having a fish means that people would return time and again. The point is that there's meaning to all of this that goes back centuries; it's not just decoration.

Wide Variety of Demon Tiles -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Wide Variety of Demon Tiles
Massive Tile Awaiting the Kiln -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 280 — map & image datanearby photos
Massive Tile Awaiting the Kiln

This workshop is not normally open to the public, but can now be visited as part of an exclusive tour by Tour du Lac Biwa (Lake Biwa Tours), a new company devoted to English-language off-the-beaten-path tours in Shiga, near Kyoto.

Prior to them opening their tour business to the public, I attended a test tour for free, as a guinea pig. I had a great time, and contributed my photos to their cause, so you'll see some of my photos (and photos of me) on the tour page.

(I've taken a number of their tours as a test guinea pig, but couldn't write about it on my blog until they started business officially. Now that they have, I can start to write about some of the wonderful experiences I had.)

Delicate prior to firing, the drying clay looks quite fragile -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Delicate
prior to firing, the drying clay looks quite fragile
Freshly Fired it looks much more substantial -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 28mm — 1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Freshly Fired
it looks much more substantial

The huge demon tile above is the one that I whimsically labeled as the Japanese Gargoyle of Email Destruction in my post about lost email the other day:

“ Japanese Gargoyle of Email Destruction ” my whimsical name; I don't know the real name -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 38mm — 1/80 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Japanese Gargoyle of Email Destruction
my whimsical name; I don't know the real name

It's interesting to compare the eyes on this one to some of the others. With most of these demon-face tiles, the eyes are bulged out like the huge awaiting-the-kiln unit above, or like that with deep indentations for the pupils. But with this one right above, the eyes are empty tubes all the way in, which means that they'll turn into deep holes of black once mounted. (In the photo above, what looks like pupils are really holes in the mounting bracket at the back of the tile, which would normally not be lit when actually mounted. The lining up to appear as pupils in this photo was quite intentional.)

Jumble of Old Pieces that serve as reference for recreations -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 2800 — map & image datanearby photos
Jumble of Old Pieces
that serve as reference for recreations
Old and New creating a replacement for an old damaged piece -- Minobe Onigawara Workshop (美濃邉鬼瓦工房) -- Otsu, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm — 1/50 sec, f/4.5, ISO 500 — map & image datanearby photos
Old and New
creating a replacement for an old damaged piece

Mr. Minobe gave a demonstration of how they work, which will become part two of this writeup.

Continued here...


All 5 comments so far, oldest first...

Great post! We are very lucky that you get to visit all these cool places. Otherwise, we would never really know about them.

For those of you not living in Japan, this seems obvious, but having lived in Japan, I can say that a lot of what Jeffrey posts is so removed from everyday life that we never get to see it, even after several years in the country!

So, Jeffrey, thank you for your blog posts 🙂

Side note: It’s been a few posts that you haven’t announced on G+… Have you abandoned it’s use?

Well, you do see the tiles all the time in Kyoto… just not how they’re made. And about G+, yeah, my interest in keeping it up seems to have waned of late, sorry. —Jeffrey

— comment by Nicolas on September 5th, 2014 at 4:40pm JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Very cool! Thanks for sharing the photos (and the information about the tours – that’s something I’ll keep in mind for the future). I didn’t realize how different the “raw” tiles looked before going through the kiln.

— comment by David K. on September 5th, 2014 at 9:19pm JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

These are very cool pieces of work. I think they would count as grotesques rather than gargoyles since they aren’t water spouts. Grotesque seems lile a closer parallel to the demon description too!

— comment by Rob Edgcumbe on September 6th, 2014 at 12:20am JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

The demon faces are fantastic in both the raw clay and the fired work. Last thing the gunmetal glaze or finish on those tiles is just exquisite. I know you see it all over Japan, but it really never gets old. Thank you for making these photos color. Ironically something would be lost to render those items in B&W.And to see those ‘gargoyle’ faces there on the racks.. just incredible stuff.

Love also how you still hunger for great photos… The documentary value for culture nerds and japan-ophiles makes these photos valuable even if taken with an old kodak… but your effort does shine through (Japanese Gargoyle of Email destruction) and makes this a fascinating post.

— comment by Ron Evans on September 9th, 2014 at 11:18am JST (2 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Fascinating photos at the tile factory. The black and white photos have a sheen I have never seen . Tne “Japanese Gargoyle of Email Destruction” is priceless. Thank you for the pictures. Father Mac in Kyoto

— comment by Father Mac on September 15th, 2014 at 5:57pm JST (2 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink
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